I posted this quote on Instagram last week, and instantly there were comments. Someone emailed to ask if I would make it into a print. Several others emailed to simply connect, and a couple of emails actually turned into phone conversations. The image actually got the most likes of any image I’ve posted, ever. It seems that 2012, for quite a few people, has been a struggle.
Jobs have been lost, finances have been drained, marriages have been challenged. Sweet, precious, beautiful, wonderful souls have left this world all too soon. The tears too real, shoulders have shaken, hard, as they’ve been shed. Trust has been shattered, friendships lost, and road blocks have seemingly piled themselves as massive obstacles in mountainous form.
If you’re reflecting on 2012 as one of the worst years ever, then I’m talking to you. (If 2012 was a banner year for you, awesome! That rocks! Go you! But I’m not talking to you in this post, and the rest of it might not make much sense. That’s ok. Love you anyway.) From this point on, in this blog post, imagine that we’re sitting in a cozy room, with warm mugs in our hands, and you’ve just told me why 2012 was awful. Painful. Heart-wrenching.
I’m not going pretend to have been in your shoes. As tough as 2012 has been for me, the tears I have shed cannot be compared to the tears you have shed. To compare our pains would insult you. It would trivialize your experiences, and your trials, and I don’t want to do that. What I can do, not even having heard your story, is trust you: if you’re telling me it was awful, I’m so, so, so, sorry. If you need me to cry with you, I can. I am.
As we sit in that cozy room, Indian style on sofas, and sip our hot drinks, I want to tell you a couple of things.
As God’s children, He has placed us in a garden of undeserved privilege. That’s called grace. He has covered us with His love, in order to prevent the worst possible thing ever–eternal separation from him. That’s called mercy. So if we’re standing in grace, and shielded by mercy, with the faith and confidence that we’ll at least never have to be eternally separated from Him, then these trials and problems and struggles are temporary, even if they feel like they’re not.
You’ve got to find gratitude. Even though I’m not in your shoes, I can tell you that I know struggle and pain, albeit my version. And the way I look at my struggles is that I know they’re not the worst things ever, even though at times they seem personally unbearable. The worst pain ever was a father, who loved people so much, that he let the people take his baby boy and crucify him. As a parent, can you imagine? I cannot. That’s huge love. That’s the worst year ever. If you’re trying to find gratitude in the midst of pain, start there: at least be grateful that you don’t have to go through sacrificial relinquishment of your child, or brutal crucifiction.
Stop searching for happiness. Pain and struggle sometimes leave us aimless. We don’t know how to get away from it. So, we walk along, sometimes blindly, praying that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, which there WILL be–but fair warning, the light at the end of the tunnel is not happiness. The light at the end of the tunnel is relief, breathing space, restful nights. And the truth about life is that there are actually lots of tunnels and lots of lights. We’re going to keep going through them, and we have to recognize the light moments and live in them fully, because there will be another tunnel soon enough. That’s life. Happiness is in the journey, the gratitude in difficult things along the way, not the destination.
Have faith. Take heart. Choose courage. It WILL get better. Actually, I’m willing to bet you cold hard cash that it’ll get AWESOME. If you let it, the struggle can become one of the most beautiful parts of the story. Life has a funny way of making awesome, though, without giving you your way. God always knows what’s best for us. When we have the courage to have the faith that He’ll work it all out for good, in His time, the story can become magnificent. On days when it’s tough, just CHOOSE faith and courage.
Let it go. As humans, for whatever odd reason, we tend to revel in the pain. We lament the woes of our circumstances to whomever will listen. We hold grudges. We choose to remember and relive. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy, rehashing situations that cannot be undone. My mother would tell me to quit beating a dead horse. Was it a problem? Yes. Did it stink? Sure. Is there grief? Yes, and a grieving process is allowed and encouraged, but you’ve still got to learn to let it go. If you hang onto it, it becomes bitterness. You’ve got to forgive: the person, the disease, the circumstances, the hand you’ve been dealt. Face the reality, and when the anger or hatred or negativity start to creep into your mind again, whisk the thoughts away with a simple choice: forgiveness. Say to yourself, “I’m choosing to forgive.”
Don’t be afraid to hope for better. We have a saying around our house: hope is not a good business strategy. However, the path leading away from pain and struggle is paved with hope. Most of us don’t consider the lack of hope an option; we have to have it to simply handle things. When faced with adversity, most of us realize that curling up in a ball in the corner and giving up just isn’t possible, even if we wanted it to be. In the thick of struggle, though, sometimes we find ourselves wondering if we’re wasting energy on hope. Hope isn’t a bad thing, just make sure you always pair it with action, even if that action is just praying and waiting. Simply standing around hoping things will get better isn’t going to make them so. As my mom would say, it might be time to hop to it. Pair hoping with hopping and you’ll find progress.
Romans 5:3-4 says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance, and perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint.” (A compilation of versions). This brings me to my next point:
Hope does not disappoint. In fact, it seems that hope actually produces more faith, more confidence, more courage, more wisdom, more freedom. Faith produces more love. We have been watching a lot of VeggieTales around my house lately, and there is one little song where an asparagus-nun sings: I can love because God loved me.
I’m working on that one, friends. In the pain of struggle, it is hard to open your heart to loving unconditionally. As a human, I want to place conditions, expectations, on my love. I want to give without expecting anything in return, but I’m afraid of being burned. I want to love without fearing pain. That’s probably not realistic. But I can’t live without loving, so I choose to love. I have faith that all things will work for good. I pair hope with action to create progress. And I move forward. I will survive. You will, too.
Call me corny, but if you’re reading this, I love you. I’ve prayed that this might be an encouragement to you. Be encouraged: you are not alone in your struggle. And if you’re ever in Oklahoma City, maybe we can meet up for a chat over a couple of warm mugs.